Turkey’s Diplomatic Success with Russia and Ukraine

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

July 26, 2022

On Thursday, July 21, Turkey announced that Russia and Ukraine had reached a grain export deal, brokered by Ankara and the United Nations. The deal was formalized the following day, signed by Russia and Ukraine separately. With Ukraine and Russia as essential exporters of both grain and wheat, providing approximately 30 percent of the international supply, this diplomatic development was a critical step in ensuring food security in the Middle East, North Africa, and other regions. However, various officials, including U.S. policy leaders, have expressed doubts regarding Russian compliance within this 120-day agreement.

Turkey played a critical role in solidifying the deal, facilitating multiple months of planning to help Russia and Ukraine come to an agreement. The Middle East Eye stated Turkey’s ‘immense diplomacy’ for the deal:The UN and Turkey have been working for two months to broker an agreement over the blocked grains. Before last week’s talks in Istanbul, diplomats said details of the plan included Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters while Turkey—supported by the UN—would inspect ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling. All the while, Russia would agree to a truce while shipments move.”

Turkish President Erdoğan, UN Secretary-General Guterres, and other Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian authorities attended the agreement ceremony held at the Dolmabahçe Palace on the Bosporus. Highlighted in Hurriyet, Erdoğan reflected: “The execution of this plan will be controlled through the Joint Coordination Center to be established in Istanbul in the coming days. The support of the international community is of vital importance for the success of this plan…As we have been saying since the beginning of this conflict, the prolongation of this war will lead to continued economic losses and human casualties. It will not only hurt the warring sides and the regional countries but all the world even in the most remote corners…There will be no losers of a just peace.”

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute also identified the deal as a large Turkish diplomatic achievement. Quoting Cagaptay’s view on Turkey’s unique position on the Russia-Ukraine war, Arab News cited: Since the beginning of the war, Turkey followed a pro-Ukrainian neutrality, and adopted a neutral attitude by supporting Ukraine militarily and taking steps like closing straits to Russian and Ukrainian ships… During this whole process, Turkey maintained economic ties and lines of communication open to Russia. This stance made Turkey the only country that had the opportunity to contact the both sides.”

Various countries congratulated Turkey’s diplomatic involvement in the deal, such as Pakistan who relies tremendously on Ukraine and Russia for grain exports. Journalist Aamir Latif, writing for Anadolu Agency, featured Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s statements regarding Turkey’s role. Sharif “hailed Türkiye for its key role in preventing a looming global food crisis by brokering a deal on Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports… ‘Ukraine grain deal signed in Istanbul is a historic victory of diplomacy signifying that all crises can be averted through meaningful engagement,’ Sharif said on Twitter. ‘On this remarkable achievement I congratulate my brother President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and thank Türkiye for playing a key role in preventing (a) global food crisis.’”

The United States publicly praised the agreement while expressing qualms regarding its implementation. Al-Monitor cited U.S. Department of State spokesperson Edward ‘Ned’ Price: “but what will really matter is the implementation of this agreement. We will of course continue to work with our partners to hold Russia accountable for its implementation…We applaud the diligent work of our Turkish allies.”

Similarly, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby publicly commented on his skepticism regarding Russian compliance and successful implementation. Also analyzed in Al-Monitor, Kirby stated:Success, of course, is going to depend on Russia’s compliance with this arrangement, and actually implementing its commitments and of course, ending its blockade of Ukrainian ports…The devil is in the details here….Russia’s word is never good enough on its face.” 

Russia’s missile strike on the Ukrainian grain-storing port of Odesa on Saturday, July 23 enhanced concerns regarding the deal’s implementation, as this port was one of the three export hubs mentioned in the agreement. Both UK Foreign Secretary Truss and US Secretary of State Blinken, among many other officials, condemned the attack. Written in Hurriyet,UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the attack was ‘absolutely appalling’ and ‘completely unwarranted.’ The United States also ‘strongly condemned’ the attack, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying it ‘casts serious doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment to yesterday’s deal.’”

According to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Russia has denied involvement in the Odesa attack; many parties, including several Turkish and Ukraine officials, nevertheless identify Russia as the perpetrator. Written in the Daily Sabah, “Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned Saturday’s onslaught. ‘It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odessa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the U.N. and Turkey under the Istanbul agreement,’ Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said. ‘In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for a global food crisis,’ he added.”

Despite this attack, a senior Ukrainian government official stated hopes of exporting the first Ukrainian grain shipment this week. Furthermore, Ukrainian Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov announced: “We believe that over the next 24 hours we will be ready to work to resume exports from our ports. We are talking about the port of Chornomorsk. It will be the first, then there will be Odesa, then the port of Pivdeny…In the next two weeks, we will be technically ready to carry out grain exports from all Ukrainian ports,’ Vaskov said.”

Writing for Asharq Al-Awsat, journalist Omer Onhon speaks on what this agreement means for the future. In regards to this agreement impacting the Russia-Ukraine war: “The Istanbul agreement is a much-needed diplomatic success for Turkey, which is now in a position to argue that keeping talking terms with Russia has enabled this outcome. The grain deal is the first agreement where Ukrainian and Russian negotiators sat around the same table since the start of the war. If this agreement could be reached, why not others? But we need to bear in mind that territorial and other issues would most probably be much more complicated than grain issues. Signing the grain corridor deal is a major achievement but it is not the end. The two sides distrust each other and dynamics of the war are in play. Ukraine and Russia are both concerned that the other side may use the arrangement to serve military purposes. What needs to be seen is the implementation of the arrangement. On a last note, what was achieved in Istanbul is important but fragile.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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